RMIT spearheads higher education's pragmatic evolution for the AI era

RMIT spearheads higher education's pragmatic evolution for the AI era

While debate continues globally about artificial intelligence’s role in higher education, RMIT University has taken decisive action to reimagine higher education curricula, assessments, and learning analytics for the age of AI.

Studies from world-leading universities like Harvard, MIT, and Wharton are finding that people using AI finish more tasks (+12.2% more on average), faster (+25.1%) to a higher level of quality (+40%) (Dell’Acqua et al, 2023). As advanced AI systems like ChatGPT become increasingly pervasive, university leaders around the world face complex decisions on effectively leveraging these technologies while upholding academic integrity.

Rather than banning AI, RMIT University has committed to critically evaluating and embracing its potential educational benefits. According to RMIT Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education Professor Sherman Young, “AI will be an integral part of our future life and work. We need to teach our students how to use AI critically, ethically and appropriately, just as we’ve taught them how to use other technologies to work more efficiently and effectively”.

The University has developed its own in-house AI (Val – short for Virtual Assistant for Learning) in partnership with Microsoft and currently available for staff use in RMIT-related work, research, learning and teaching. It has hosted international speakers, convened international collaborations between Vietnam and Australia, and actively innovated in this exciting new space in higher education. 

Harnessing AI starts with curriculum design

RMIT has adopted a pragmatic, evolutionary approach to implement AI, with educators across the university spearheading varied innovative efforts to experiment with and integrate AI’s enormous opportunities. Some of these innovations were recently showcased by staff from RMIT campuses in both Australia and Vietnam.

In curriculum development, learning designers at RMIT Vietnam have extensively used generative AI to craft narratives and analogies to explain concepts, as well as generate examples, scenarios and activities for classes.

A combination of AI and gamification can also help facilitate engagement, as Dr Santiago Velasquez, Assistant Program Manager of RMIT Vietnam’s MBA program has successfully piloted. Dr Velasquez has used AI to create detailed, fictional, and interactive personas that students can roleplay with for design thinking exercises. He noted that the enhanced realism of engaging with an AI leads to increased student engagement and outcomes, enabling students to perform high-quality research compared to traditional roleplays.

Six AI-generated portrait photos of people Examples of AI-generated personas that students can create to roleplay with (Images courtesy of Nick McIntosh)

Appropriate assessment can enable fair use of AI

In assessments, RMIT has taken the position that educators should holistically consider the purpose and use of AI tools when designing assessment tasks and advising students.

In operationalising this, learning designers in the College of Design and Social Context, RMIT Australia, have developed a framework to guide assessment design that considers the options to use any AI, some AI, or no AI at all in the assessment process.

When some specific AI tools are to be used for some specific tasks, Senior Learning Designer Kirsten Black noted that the assessment should be redesigned to differentiate AI and human tasks. It should contain explicit instructions on which tasks require AI or recommend which AI tools to use. Ms Black also recommended making the process of how students answer a given assessment transparent.

Aligning with the assessment design framework and consultation with industry experts, Senior Lecturer in Project Management Dr Frank Boukamp transformed his assessments to include a focus on leveraging and evaluating AI as a collaborator and colleague.

For example, he asked his 4th-year students to develop a technology adoption strategy for a fake company, using ChatGPT or a similar tool. The students were expected to show their understanding of the theory they had been taught by guiding the AI tool through well thought-out prompts, and critically evaluate the tool's suitability for the job.

“We must envision how people in industry might use generative AI, and reflect on what it is that students now need to learn,” Dr Boukamp emphasised.

Three RMIT students looking at a laptop beside a robot on a red table As advanced AI systems become increasingly pervasive, students need to learn how to use AI critically, ethically and appropriately.

Unlocking the power of analytics and beyond

And this is just the beginning. Phil Sambati, Digital Learning Manager at RMIT Vietnam’s School of English & University Pathways, is exploring the extraordinary power of AI-enabled learning analytics. AI-enabled analytics can be used to identify struggling students and trigger targeted interventions such as extra support. Alternatively, they can be used to uncover patterns and insights to guide course and assessment design iterations and improvements.

Mr Sambati highlighted the potential contribution to dynamic, adaptive learning, “Perhaps the real power of AI-enabled learning analytics lies in its ability to feed into automated recommendation systems that could then suggest personalised content or activities based on an individual student’s learning history, learning preferences, and progress within a course.”

With promising outcomes already apparent, RMIT’s initiatives could become models for institutions managing AI’s emergence.

RMIT Vietnam Learning Futurist Nick McIntosh remarked, "We are in the very early days of a brand new, world-altering technology that will shape our futures and change our world in ways we can only begin to fathom. But we have agency in determining how this change unfolds - and the new world it may lead to. The first step starts with engaging responsibly with AI to realise its best use cases."

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